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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » An American Girl: Grace Stirs Up Success (Blu-ray)
An American Girl: Grace Stirs Up Success (Blu-ray)
Universal // Unrated // June 23, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted July 4, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
Baking knows no boundaries

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: When my daughter's happy, baked goods
Likes: Virginia Madsen
Dislikes: Mega-drama, goofy girl giggles
Hates: The American Girl industry

The Movie
The annual American Girl movie has arrived, this time starring Grace, the latest Girl of the Year. Each year's girl has their "thing", and for Grace it's baking (along with bikes and making lists, to a lesser degree.) Helping out in her grandparents' bakery, she has a great idea for getting money to buy new bikes for her and her friends: they'll sell cupcakes. Things get off to a good start, but some family news puts the plan on hold, since Grace and her mom (Virginia Madsen) are headed to Paris to help Grace's pregnant Aunt Sophie out at the bakery she runs with her husband Bernard.

Naturally, since this is an American Girl movie, that means drama with her friends, as her concerns over their fledgling business during her absence are interpreted as insults, and also issues with fitting in, as her glum French cousin Sylvie gives her the cold shoulder and she struggles to meet her uncle's exacting baking standards. But a little music, a lot of mom's love and some self-determination will overcome just about anything (at least in the American Girl universe.) So when her time in France comes to an end, it's no surprise that a happy ending has arrived...but there's still 40 minutes left. And we learn that her grandparent's bakery is on the verge of closing. Things keep getting worse, and no montage is going to solve these problems.

Thankfully reality TV is here to help, as a chance to appear on MasterChef Junior might just save the day. The film actually transforms almost entirely into an episode of the cooking competition, with only the cutaways to the family watching at home separating TV from this movie. (By the way, what episode of any reality show airs live in both America and France? Just curious.) Does it matter? Not really. The film sort of ended a while ago. This is like a spin-off or something, and as such maintains its own internal pacing and logic. And it's still pretty entertaining. That's the thing about these movies, which are obviously meant to entertain little girls. As Grace, Olivia Rodrigo offers the best, most natural performance of any of the American Girl leads to date, and director Vince Marcello (writer on Teen Beach Movie) continues to make legitimately cinematic films out of what could otherwise be mediocre kids movies, overcoming a formulaic story structure built on musical montages (backed here by a magical group of street buskers who are everywhere Grace goes.)

Watching Grace Stirs Up Success with my daughter Emma, it's obvious that the film hits the sweet spot with its target audience, as she was enthralled, dancing and singing along with the musical scenes. The joy she expressed when the film ended surpassed the reaction I've seen from her for just about anything (including the previous American Girl films.) Though I thought it was awkwardly constructed/paced, she didn't notice. Here's her thoughts on the film:

Emma Rizzo, 9

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: ,Grace and Sylvie, and also American girl dolls. Dogs too
Likes: Baking and French
Dislikes: Bossy people like Maddy (red-head friend)
Hates: Nothing really

I really liked it and girls who love baking or American Girl dolls should watch this. Olivia Rodrigo did a really good job as Grace. I would really want to go to Paris because it was really cool to see. I thought the dancing and music scenes were fun and catchy. I didn't like Maddy (the red-headed friend) because she was really bossy. My favorite characters are Grace and Sylvie. It was fun the way it ended.Hope you liked my part of the review! Bye! :)

The Discs
The film arrives on a single Blu-Ray disc and a DVD copy, which are in a standard-width, dual-hubbed Blu-Ray keepcase with a holofoil-embossed slipcover. The disc offers a cut-down version of Universal's usual curved, animated menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes and adjust the set-up. There are no audio options, while subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish and French.

The Quality
Like previous American Girl films, the 1080p AVC-encoded 2.40:1 transfer here looks good, with great fine detail and excellent color, but has that hazy look to some scenes (though it's certainly less present than in previous releases.) Black levels are solid though, outside of the MasterChef scenes, there's not a lot of darkness in Grace's world. There are no obvious digital distractions though.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack doesn't benefit from a movie with a lot of action to deliver, but there is a good deal of music and it all gets a great boost from the surrounds, while the low-end kicks in to give the proceedings some weight. Atmospheric effects are frequently present, and sound effects have good (if possibly exaggerated punch, as when a bit of comedic slapstick occurs in the kitchen. Dialogue is consistently clean and easily understood, whether in English or French.

The Extras
Breaking the norm, there are some (brief) extras included with this American Girl film, two of which are exclusive to the Blu-ray release. The first exclusive is "Girls About Town" (3:19), which follows the cast, focusing on the four core girls, as they travel around Budapest, where the film was shot. The girls (and Madsen) talk about the experience of being abroad and their travels.

"Meet Bonbon" (1:32) is a short look at the dog featured in the film, with footage of him and his trainer, as well as some talk about how training was handled to get his performance in the movie.

Only both releases you'll find three short montages, "MasterChef Junior", a 1:22 montage from the set of this section of the movie; "Doggie Day Spa", 1:10 of on-set footage the girls washing a big dog; and "Playing Dress Up," with 1:10 of clips focusing on hair, make-up and costumes.

Also found on the discs are trailers for three other American Girl movies, Isabelle Saige and McKenna. There's also a code for an Ultraviolet digital copy of the film.

The Bottom Line
The latest entry in the American Girl movie franchise doesn't differ dramatically from the previous films, but with Marcello honing the style, an excellent lead in Rodrigo and some new locations (both exotic and familiar) an improvement is evident, particularly in my daughter's reaction. The presentation remains solid and this time there are even a few short extras to check out.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter

*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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